“I am sitting outside on the patio of Café Strada just across from the UC Berkeley campus, sipping a “small” latte which is actually rather large, and reflecting about my summer research internship at the Berkeley Wireless Research Center. My experience at UC Berkeley has been an outstanding one. I enjoyed working on a project which combined and enriched my two main interests in electrical engineering (hardware design and communication). I enjoyed getting a taste of graduate student life in preparation for the world that awaits me when I graduate from Engineering Science next year. I enjoyed meeting the amazing faculty and students I was working with, having conversations at lunchtime about everything from circuit design to wedding planning, and attending a Research Retreat in Santa Cruz which included many interesting research talks in the morning and kayaking and hiking in the afternoon. Outside of work, I also had a great time exploring San Francisco with a group of international students I met, playing tennis and beach volleyball on campus, and hiking and biking in the Bay area.
My project this summer was to design hardware for a wireless communication application. The purpose of a communication system is to carry data from a source to a destination across a communication channel. Research in communications is predominantly concerned with reducing the power required for data transmission and increasing the spectral efficiency (the rate at which information can be sent within a limited frequency range). One way to increase spectral efficiency is by using multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver so that more data is sent in parallel. However, there is a physical limit to how close antennas can be placed on a device. For the frequencies used in wireless communication today, the minimum distance between antennas is limited to about 5 to 10 cm. This physical limit presents a challenge when designing small cellular devices desired by today’s consumers. One idea, called cooperative wireless communication, is drawing a lot of attention. Cooperative wireless communication asks the questions: why should all transmitting antennas be on one device? What if several devices, each with a single antenna, could cooperate together to send a message to the destination? Cooperative communication is a growing area of research with the potential to make a great impact in wireless communication.
So what was my research role this summer? For any wireless communication system, it is crucial to have a mechanism that detects and corrects errors that might occur when data is sent across a noisy channel. This mechanism, called an error correction code, involves an encoder which adds redundancy to the message data according to a pre-specified rule or “code.” This redundancy is then used by a decoder to identify and correct errors in data received at the destination. My task this summer was to design an encoder and decoder in hardware for a particular error correction code and test its performance on a programmable chip called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). Throughout this project, I have learned a lot about error correction coding schemes, iterative decoding algorithms and hardware design methodology while gaining valuable experience with tools and hardware description languages that are widely used in both industry and academia for hardware design.
With an internship at Ecole Polytechnique in France after my first year of Engineering Science and an internship at MIT after my second year, this summer at UC Berkeley is my third research experience so far. But I’m not getting tired of research. In fact my interest, my curiosity and my ambition to make a difference just keep growing. Each of my summer internships was unique and stimulating; each project, each faculty member and each fellow student or coworker provided a new perspective from which I have learned a lot. I am coming back to Toronto for my fourth year of Engineering Science with new knowledge, amazing memories of my summer at UC Berkeley, a tan from the California sun and a big smile on my face.”